By Marc Glassman
Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps
Oliver Stone, director
Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff, script w/Oliver Stone & Stanley Weiser
Bryan Burrough, story
Starring: Michael Douglas (Gordon Gekko), Shia LaBeouf (Jacob “Jake” Moore), Josh Brolin (Bretton James), Carey Mulligan (Winnie Gekko), Frank Langella (Lewis Zabel), Susan Sarandon (Jake’s mother), Eli Wallach (Jules Steinhardt)
Given the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, it was inevitable that Oliver Stone would return to the place where “money never sleeps” for another blockbuster movie. What could be more enticing for America’s most controversial fiction film director (Michael Moore is his opposite number in documentaries) than to take on the biggest news story of the decade through the eyes of one of 80s Hollywood’s iconic figures, Gordon Gekko?
Back in 1987, Michael Douglas won a deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Gekko, the ruthless broker who told his protégée Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) “greed is good.” The conceit in the sequel, Wall Street 2 is that Gekko has served his time in prison and emerged a wiser man, ready to warn his old colleagues and the public that the whole financial system is built on false promises and broken dreams—and that it’s ready to collapse.
A best selling author and TV guest pundit, Gekko is perfectly positioned to comment on the financial crisis when it occurs. His notoriety attracts the attention of Jacob Moore, a Wall Street trader who had worked for Keller Zabel (the equivalent of failed institutions Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) until Gekko’s predictions had proven true, causing his company to collapse.
Moore has been searching for a mentor since his boss and father figure Lewis Zabel committed suicide in the wake of his firm’s demise (at the beginning of Wall Street 2). He grabs Gekko’s attention when Moore reveals that he’s living with Winnie, the broker’s estranged daughter. The two trade secrets and connections—Gekko reveals that financial guru Bretton James has caused Keller Zabel’s collapse while Jacob works on Winnie, convincing her to make peace with her father.
Of course, the viewer realizes that someone is being set up. The question is: who?
Wall Street 2 is slickly plotted and meticulously designed, filled to the bursting with computer graphics and news montages that reveal what’s happening in the financial world during the economic crisis that forms the background to Gekko’s comeback story. Oliver Stone has spared no expense in depicting the affluence and excesses of present day Manhattan, which is still a glittering playground for the beautiful and the wealthy—including commodities traders whose fortunes are now predicated on government bail outs.
Wall Street 2 should be a masterpiece, a sequel on par with The Godfather. It doesn’t approach that level because the characters don’t make sense. Though Gekko is the flashy figure, it’s Shia LaBeouf’s Jacob Moore that should dominate scenes. He’s the man after revenge, the one who wants to destroy Bretton James for causing the death of his adopted partriarch, and the one who has the most to lose since he’s deeply in love with Gekko’s daughter Winnie.
Unfortunately for Stone and his audience, La Beouf is not up to the task, nor to be fair to him, is the character convincingly written. What is a man with a social conscience, in love with leftist journalist Winnie and dedicated to creating alternative energy sources, doing on Wall Street? And what is Winnie doing with someone who embodies some of her father’s worst manipulative characteristics?
Both characters exist so that Gordon Gekko can propel the plot forward by taking advantage of them. Unlike the original Wall Street, Gekko has nobody around who can really fight him—except for Bretton James but the script never really allows for much fireworks between them.
Worse, for me in any case, Stone contrives to ignore the marvelous Carey Mulligan who is reduced to eye candy for most of the film.
Wall Street 2 is entertaining throughout. And it does have something to say about the greedy never-never land that is the world of corporate finance. Bu this film could have been much more than what it is—a sequel that never matches its more important original.